There's a very fine line between being dramatic and melodramatic in pop music. Two singers can use almost the same style of presentation with one of them going over the top and the other sounding perfectly believable. If there is one style of singing that lends itself to this type of abuse more than others I'd have to say it would be the ethereal-voiced singer who barely whispers his or her lyrics. Like those who seem to think the louder I sing the more emotional I sound, these believe the wispier I am the more sincere and earnest I sound.
Unfortunately most of them just end up being annoying. You either can't make out a word they're saying, as their vocals are swamped by the inevitable atmospheric music they always seem to choose as accompaniment, or when you can hear them their voice is so precious it makes you want to scream. It's as if they'd never heard the word substance and figure if they sound deep and mysterious enough the audience won't care they're not really singing about anything.
It becomes increasingly obvious how artificial most of these singers sound when you hear someone like Diana Darby. Her most recent release, IV (intravenous), on her own Delmore Recordings label, is a collection of 12 thoughtful and moving songs. Those familiar with her previous work will be aware of her very individualistic style of singing, which borders on being lighter than air. However, Darby distinguishes herself from others both in the way her vocals are an organic extension of her material and her range of expression. She doesn't spend the whole recording whispering to us in a more earnest-than-thou voice. Instead she comes across as a real person, not some will of the wisp whose just nipped in from a New Age version of the fairy realm.
With songs dealing with everything from mourning the passing of a pet dog to a fundamentalist parent who delights in telling her family they're all going to hell, her material isn't what you'd call typical of pop music. The low-pitched intensity of her voice suits this type of material. There's an introspective quality to the material which demands a certain level of quiet contemplation. As you listen, you can see how her voice fits with her songs and any other vocal approach wouldn't sound right.
Sometimes the softness of her voice is an expression of compassion for her subject while at other times it makes her lyrics stand out with shocking intensity. "Looking For Trouble", the disc's opening track, is a lament for the death of her own dog sung in the third person. "You keep looking for trouble/Looking for trouble/Don't you girl/You think he will come to you/But you don't know what he'll do". At first listen it's not clear what the song is about. In fact, unless you read her website and find out Darby's dog Trouble died recently you might think its about a woman who chooses to date the wrong guy all the time.